The Horrors of the Kanelbulle

Every country has a specific way in celebrating what people deem to be important, their national heritage, or just because everyone likes an excuse to party. Globally we celebrate events and movements such as international women’s day and with festivities expanded towards an ever growing range of bizarre holidays, there are also holidays like the international Winnie the Pooh Day on January, 18th that can be celebrated by everyone.

In Sweden, with Swedish people having an average of one to two fikas per day and eating around 316 kanelbullar (cinnamon buns) per year, it seems only natural to celebrate what represents Swedish culture at its best on October, 4th, the Kanelbulle Dag (Cinnamon Bun Day). However, do not let this little sweet, delicious, scrumptious pastry fool you! The kanelbulle has a dark past that is little known around Sweden. To let a bit more light into this grey zone of people’s minds, let us delve into this horror story together.

Colonialism, Exploitation and Cinnamon Cravings
Cinnamon may not directly spring into your mind as being the number one trade good that allowed for an increased European domination of the Indian Ocean in the late 16th century. However, this particular spice and the capture of the cinnamon trade was a priority goal amongst the European aristocracy.

Originally cinnamon was used to cover up the taste of foul meat during the winter and, more importantly, cinnamon was a mighty status symbol. Everybody who could afford this spice would make sure to have plenty of it on display to impress guests and friends during feasts.

Towards the end of the Middle Ages, the rising middle class soon began to pursue cinnamon as well and with rising demands, the race to capture the cinnamon trade monopoly was on!

Portugal was the first country to win this race and managed to take over Ceylon cinnamon production. They defended their monopol through cruel means- by enslaving the Sinhalese and by making sure that no competitor would take away their monopoly. Their methods would include measures such as sinking Arab dhows (trade ships) and hanging any possible European competition. This strategy did work for some time, until the Dutch forcefully took over the Portuguese production. For the local Sinhalese however little changed, some argue they were treated even worse by the Dutch than by their former Portuguese colonizers.

The colonizers changed flags once again in 1796 when the British arrived in Ceylon and displaced the Dutch from their control of the cinnamon monopol.

By the middle of the 19th Century the cinnamon market in Europe grew more “democratic”. Whilst there was an increase in production of 1000 tons a year, low quality cinnamon became more acceptable. Therefore cinnamon production sites were erected in a variety of locations, such as Brazil, the West Indies and Guyana and the era of the cinnamon monopoly came to an end.

Cinnamon – Sweden’s Grey Zone?

Sweden, the “lagom” country of Scandinavia, the neutral country during WWII, a country that you would probably not link to torture, slavery, exploitation and colonialism. Whilst Sweden did possess some small colonies overseas, this was a very small number compared to its European neighbours. Yet the Kanelbulle that became so popular in Sweden during the 18th century, and was made into the national holiday in 1999, is a product of Europe’s dark past, its colonial history.

So, next time you go out for some fika and get your favourite pastry, do think about where the Kanelbulle comes from and be aware of its bloody past.

By Julia Glatthaar

Pictures:

The Vikings Murder Kanelbullar: All rights reserved Merle Emrich

Image by Gabby Canonizado, Stranded for a While_B&W, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)